Ryan Coonerty: Facing Historic Wildfires and a Pandemic—at the Same Time

As a county supervisor in Santa Cruz County, California, Ryan Coonerty is having to cope with two historic challenges: the national coronavirus pandemic and the catastrophic western wildfires. Both disasters have hit his community hard. In this episode, host Spencer Critchley talks with Ryan about leadership in a time of crisis — or crises.


About Ryan Coonerty

Ryan Coonerty serves as the Third District Supervisor for Santa Cruz County.  Elected to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in 2014 and reelected in 2018, Ryan is a two-time former Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz. He is also an entrepreneur, author, and educator. He is the host of the An Honorable Profession podcast. He was the co-founder of NextSpace Coworking + Innovation (now owned by Pacific Workplaces), a lecturer on law and government at UC Santa Cruz, and co-author of The Rise of the Naked Economy – How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace (Macmillan, 2013) and wrote Etched in Stone – Enduring Words from our National Monuments (National Geographic, 2007). Ryan was selected by the Aspen Institute to be a Rodel Fellow in Public Leadership as one of “the nation’s most promising young elected officials,” a “Community Hero” by the Red Cross of Santa Cruz County and “Advocate of the Year” by the United Way of Santa Cruz County.

On the Board of Supervisors, Ryan has created incentives to support affordable workforce housing, led the expansion of the public safety program Community Partnership for Accountability, Connection and Treatment (PACT), and brought forward a successful proposal for the County to stop doing business with big banks that pled guilty to felonies. Ryan built on the work of his predecessors to improve Twin Lakes Beachfront access, repair roads and bikeways and worked with the Santa Cruz County Clerk to make sure the postage is paid on all vote-by-mail ballots—so that stamps are never a barrier to voting. Ryan led the effort to establish a local Nurse-Family Partnership Program and a Thrive by Three Fund to support families’ health and educational outcomes.

Ryan currently serves as the Chair of the Central California Alliance for Health, the Medi-Cal managed health care plan serving 350,000 members in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Merced Counties, where he works to improve access to health care for lower income residents.

A leader on environmental issues, Ryan was a strong supporter of the creation of Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), which will reduce carbon emissions while supporting the local economy and jobs. He currently serves as an alternate to the MBCP Board and is on the Monterey Bay Air Resources Board. Ryan actively opposes a proposal to expand offshore oil and gas drilling off the coast of California and supports the lawsuits filed by the County and City of Santa Cruz against 29 oil, gas and coal companies for their significant contribution to creating climate change and the resulting damage from storms, fires and sea level rise.

Ryan has brought forth policies that protect the environment, create jobs and economic opportunity, enhance public safety, and improve government services for residents. He has been a steadfast supporter of women’s rights, equality for the LGBTQ community, and a vocal supporter of hard-working local immigrant families.

As Mayor and Councilmember, Ryan led successful efforts to reach a historic agreement with UC Santa Cruz and to invest the City’s reserve funds back into the community to spur the local economy. He authored the Clean Oceans, Rivers and Beaches initiative, and brought a new generation into civic life through the creation of Santa Cruz NEXT. Ryan also played a key role in attracting the Santa Cruz Warriors to Santa Cruz as well as spearheading efforts to simplify permitting for citizens and small businesses, and creating policies to increase the use of local alternative energy.

Ryan attended Santa Cruz’s public schools and graduated from the University of Oregon’s Clark Honors College. He received a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Prior to returning to Santa Cruz, he worked for The National Commission on Federal Election Reform and the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age.  He is the son of Neal and Candy Coonerty, who own Bookshop Santa Cruz, which is now run by Ryan’s sister Casey. He lives in Santa Cruz with his wife Emily, daughter Daisy and son Kellan.

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